HOUSTON -- As life slowly gets back to normal at baseball parks across the country, Major League Baseball has been pitching in to ensure that fans who want to get vaccinated have a way to do that while cheering on their favorite teams.
On Tuesday, the Astros implemented their vaccination initiative, offering two tickets for any fan who received a free vaccination shot in the Union Station lobby, adjacent to the ballpark. The effort was in partnership with longtime sponsor Houston Methodist, as part of MLB’s larger “MLB Vaccinate at the Plate” program, in which all 30 clubs are hosting at least one event in the month of June.
Anita Sehgal, Astros senior vice president of marketing and communications, said fans were already lining up long before gates opened ahead of the Astros’ opener with the Rangers.
“We’re very fortunate, because we’ve had a great partner in Methodist, and we had done a lot of COVID testing and also did some vaccination events,” Sehgal said. “We made a call to Methodist and said, 'Help us come up with something we can do.'”
The Astros reached out to groups who may not have had the opportunity to get vaccinated yet, because of school schedules or other circumstances. Among those encouraged to attend the vaccination event were members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, one of MLB’s main charity partners.
Participants who received the vaccine were given two free tickets to either Tuesday’s game, or to one of the upcoming games against the Orioles (June 28-30). Participants also received an Astros giveaway item.
Manager Dusty Baker said Kyle Tucker “woke up not feeling well” and was being evaluated by doctors and medical staff. Baker said specifically that Tucker, who was not in the lineup Tuesday, was sidelined because of illness, not injury.
“They’re testing him for a lot of stuff,” Baker said.
Wednesday’s finale with the Rangers will be on the Astros’ Pride Night, their first such event since 2010. They were scheduled to host Pride Night in 2020 before the season was upended due to COVID-19.
“Houston’s truly the most diverse city in the U.S.,” Sehgal said. “It has a fantastic LGBTQ community that is really focused on inclusion. Our partnership with the LGBT Chamber of Commerce and parts of the community allowed us to create a campaign that baseball is for everyone. We put together a Pride Night that the community and the city can be proud of.”
New rules for pitchers
“Sticky stuff” was a hot topic in ballparks everywhere on Tuesday, following MLB’s announcement that it will enforce rules prohibiting pitchers using substances that enhance their grip on the ball. Punishments for pitchers using foreign substances include 10-game suspensions with pay. The new rules will go into effect June 21.
Baker, when asked about the new rules during his daily media session with reporters, said he had not yet read the entire memo from MLB, and added that he would have preferred for MLB to have implemented these guidelines during Spring Training, rather than the middle of the season.
“A lot of these guys, they didn’t think they were doing anything really wrong, actually,” Baker said. “Now they have to adjust and readjust.”
Reminded that foreign substances have always been prohibited, Baker replied: “There’s a lot of rules that haven’t been adhered to, and to which degree? You don’t usually get a ticket if you’re going 3-5 [mph] over the speed limit, but you go 5 to 15, now, you’re going to get a ticket. It’s a matter of whoever’s making the rules, adhering to the rules, then changing the rules and enforcing them.”
Astros hitters who were asked about the new guidelines mostly expressed indifference.
“Our offense has been doing great all year,” shortstop Carlos Correa said. “We’ve been consistent the whole year. We’re not focusing on that too much. If pitches are going to break less because of that, I’ll take it.”
“I love it man, I love it. You guys get to ask me questions in person and it’s a lot better than sitting in a chair in that room over there, doing the Zoom.”
-- Correa, addressing reporters in person at Minute Maid Park for the first time since the end of 2019.
Tuesday marked the first day media in Houston was permitted to conduct in-person interviews on the field.